From the Heat’s quest for a three-peat, to Derrick Rose’s long-awaited return from a devastating ACL injury, to Dwight Howard’s shocking decision to sign with the Rockets, the upcoming NBA season does not lack in exciting storylines. How these and other preseason headlines play out during the course of the upcoming 82-game grind will impact which 16 teams are lucky enough to play on in the postseason.
Predicted below are the top eight seeds from both the Eastern and Western Conferences, along with each of these teams’ keys to success, their biggest off-season acquisition and their biggest roster loss.
1. Miami Heat
Keys to Success: Dwyane Wade’s health will determine his ability to return to superstar form and help LeBron James out in the Heat’s quest for a three-peat.
Biggest Addition: Greg Oden (C)
Biggest Loss: Mike Miller (SG/SF)
2. Indiana Pacers
Keys to Success: Danny Granger remains the most interesting story surrounding this Pacers team, as the Granger-less squad was one win away from a finals appearance last season. He must find a new role on a team that is now full of potential, or else his days in Indianapolis will be numbered.
Biggest Addition: Luis Scola (PF)
Biggest Loss: D.J. Augustin (PG)
3. Chicago Bulls
Keys to Success: Health. If Derrick Rose and his teammates stay healthy throughout the season, Chicago has a legitimate chance to make a trip to the Finals for the first time since Jordan left town.
Biggest Addition: Mike Dunleavy, Jr. (SG/SF)
Biggest Loss: Nate Robinson (PG)
4. Brooklyn Nets
Keys to Success: Jason Kidd has to make a seamless transition from running the point to coaching a team that has the most preseason hype in its franchise’s history.
Biggest Addition: Kevin Garnett (PF)
Biggest Loss: Gerald Wallace (SF)
5. New York Knicks
Keys to Success: If Melo’s supporting cast makes up for their disastrous showing in last season’s Playoffs, the Knicks will win bragging rights over their cross-town rivals, the Nets.
Biggest Addition: Andrea Bargnani (PF/C)
Biggest Loss: Jason Kidd (PG)
6. Atlanta Hawks
Keys to Success: Watch for Jeff Teague to break out and become the new leader of his team following the loss of Josh Smith to the Pistons.
Biggest Addition: Paul Millsap (PF)
Biggest Loss: Josh Smith (SF/PF)
7. Washington Wizards
Keys to Success: John Wall must stay healthy for the entire season and team with Bradley Beal to lead his team to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Biggest Addition: Otto Porter (SF)
Biggest Loss: A.J. Price (PG)
8. Cleveland Cavaliers
Keys to Success: This team looks great on paper. Their biggest question mark, however, is whether Andrew Bynum can stay healthy and return to All-Star form, as this would almost certainly guarantee Cleveland a spot in the playoffs for the first time in the team’s post-LeBron era.
Biggest Addition: Andrew Bynum (C)
Biggest Loss: Marreese Speights (C)
1. Los Angeles Clippers
Keys to Success: Doc Rivers must repeat the success that he had with the Celtics in 2007-2008, the last time he coached a team with expectations as high as the ones that this year’s Clippers have.
Biggest Addition: J.J. Redick (SG)
Biggest Loss: Eric Bledsoe (PG/SG)
2. Houston Rockets
Keys to Success: Jeremy Lin must prove that he can be an effective facilitator for what could prove to be the most exciting offense in the NBA.
Biggest Addition: Dwight Howard (C)
Biggest Loss: Carlos Delfino (SG/SF)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Keys to Success: If Jeremy Lamb steps up and becomes the dynamic two-guard that the Thunder have previously been able to count on in James Harden and Kevin Martin, the Thunder can keep thinking Championship.
Biggest Addition: Steven Adams (C)
Biggest Loss: Kevin Martin (SG)
4. Memphis Grizzlies
Keys to Success: New coach Dave Joerger takes over a team that is coming off the best season in franchise history. To ensure continued and repeated success, he must push his team to keep winning games through tough defense and grind-it-out offense.
Biggest Addition: Mike Miller (SG/SF)
Biggest Loss: Darrell Arthur (PF)
5. Golden State Warriors
Keys to Success: It will be interesting to watch how coach Mark Jackson distributes the playing time between Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, all excellent wing players on a team that found major success in last year’s playoff run.
Biggest Addition: Andre Iguodala (SG/SF)
Biggest Loss: Jarrett Jack (PG)
6. San Antonio Spurs
Keys to Success: Kawhi Leonard will try to build on his Finals coming-out party and become the new face of a storied franchise. His team will heavily depend on his continued growth to make another deep run in the playoffs.
Biggest Addition: Marco Belinelli (SG)
Biggest Loss: Gary Neal (PG/SG)
7. Denver Nuggets
Keys to Success: If new coach Brian Shaw figures out how to manage an extremely talented, yet superstar-less team the way George Karl did, the Nuggets should remain in playoff contention despite not having Danilo Gallinari for a big chunk of the season due to an ACL injury suffered last year.
Biggest Addition: Nate Robinson (PG)
Biggest Loss: Andre Iguodala (SG/SF)
8. New Orleans Pelicans
Keys to Success: If Anthony Davis can stay healthy throughout the course of his second NBA season, this revamped Pelicans squad will be a force to be reckoned with and may just be able to squeeze their way into the playoffs.
Biggest Addition: Jrue Holiday (PG)
Biggest Loss: Robin Lopez (C)